Dutch Health Min. to expand Covid testing to 10 million monthly; More accurate app in the works
Health Minister Hugo de Jonge announced plans on Wednesday to expand coronavirus test capacity in the Netherlands to 175 thousand tests per day, roughly 5.5 million in a month, with a long-term goal of being able to handle 10 million tests per calendar month if necessary. The plan was stated in one of a flurry of documents he submitted to Parliament on Wednesday, which also showed his desire to launch a new and more accurate version of the Dutch government’s coronavirus tracking app, Coronamelder.
More testing is a big part of the government's strategy to keep the coronavirus under control. De Jonge wants to increase testing capacity to 5.5 million per month by March next year. He wants to nearly double that target over a longer period of time so that all Netherlands residents with or without symptoms of Covid-19 can be tested once a month on average.
He said he is currently investigating which Covid-19 test will be most suitable for this purpose.
Asymptomatic testing will already become more available starting December 1 when close contacts of those who test positive for the SARS-CoV-2 infection will be able to get themselves tested regardless if they are showing signs of the viral infection, like a fever, cough or runny nose. This will apply to people who were identified during source and contact tracing, and also people who get a notification through CoronaMelder app, De Jonge announced at a press conference on Tuesday.
Close contacts are people who spent more than 15 minutes with a coronavirus patient, at a distance of less than 1.5 meters. These contacts are identified in conversation between the GGD and the patient, or with the CoronaMelder app, which keeps track of close contacts using Bluetooth technology.
A new version of the app will soon be released that will give fewer false reports, De Jonge said to Parliament on Wednesday in response to questions from Members of the Tweede Kamer, the country’s lower house. There have been a few cases of the app sending a notification when people were at a greater distance than 1.5 meters apart, or who were separated by a wall or window. The new version will take better account of obstacles like these.
Starting next month, people who get a call from the GGD or who receive a CoronaMelder notification can get tested five days after their last contact with the Covid-19 patient they encountered. "As is the case now, you will stay in home quarantine until that fifth day," he said
If someone tests negative on that day they will no longer have to quarantine, a reduction from the current self-isolation time of ten days. Should the test come back positive, municipal health service GGD will be made aware of the test result, and will advise the person on how to proceed. By isolating potentially positive cases in home quarantine, the further spread of the coronavirus can be prevented, he said.
Currently, people can only get tested for Covid-19 if they have symptoms that could indicate an infection. Close contacts have to stay in quarantine for 10 days, and can only get tested if they start showing symptoms.